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A view on the mountains in Davos
A view on the mountains in Davos
Stéphane Benoit-Godet

The global economy is doing wonderfully well. And yet, its key players are wary. Why? Because for all the good news about GDP growth, there are signs of deepening divisions in society, and a sense that for many people around the world, life will be harder for their children than it has been for themselves.

BlackRock, the largest fund manager in the world, just called for a change of perspective by urging its clients to strive to do good. Even the World Economic Forum (WEF) now replaces analysis of GDP evolution with an "inclusive development index" and thus pays less attention to short-term growth. The standard macroeconomic indicators, in other words, don't tell the whole story, they argue.

This is not the first time the WEF has delved into the world not just of numbers, but values. The Forum earlier developed the idea of stakeholders, which holds that companies shouldn't only take into account their shareholders. They should also pay attention to employees, their partners and the entire community around them. The proposal goes back, in fact, to the origins of the event in 1971 and very much reflects the post-war Western vision that presumed to have found the keys to harmonious development.

The moment for a new social contract has come

For a long time, the alliance of democracy and free market was enough to make people happy. But now, in a growing number of countries, people are acutely concerned about the future. Such is time we're living in — a state of affairs, as we see in a number of cases, that populists are cashing in on. The complexity of the world is difficult to summarize in two words, unlike the "us' and "them" discourse of fear mongers and would-be wall builders.

Right now, Davos is preparing to receive U.S. President Donald Trump. Not only because he will be there on Friday, but also because the elite that promotes openness to the world and respect for institutions is wondering just what is the true nuisance capacity of a president who is both protectionist and unable to cope with the uses imposed by democracy.

Who can rescue us? Many had hoped that technology would have the capacity to impose a new paradigm by giving everyone access to knowledge. This project has failed, and now technology is no longer the solution; instead it's just another problem. The companies that dominate the world of innovation extort consent from their members, push for addictive consumption of their products and disrupt the debate. So much so that the public authorities will have to intervene.

How then to direct energies in the direction of a development that's both sustainable and respectful of individual freedoms? The synthesis of all these issues — if possible — will take the form of a new narrative that focuses on the assumed sovereignty of states in the face of sprawling societies. To gain popular adherence, it will also have to take into account culture, as it relates the concept of shared values.

The striking exposure of inequalities between men and women over the past few months shows how our societies often think they are more sophisticated and homogenous than they actually are. It was the WEF, after all, that recently pointed out how, based on current trends, it will take another 217 years to achieve equal pay between the two sexes. The moment for a new social contract has come. And Davos is one of the places where it will be defined.

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